One of my bills that the Governor signed into law was Senate Bill 194 with Sen. Stephanie Bice. The bill removes an unnecessary burden on teacher candidates, which is especially important during a teacher shortage like we’re seeing in Oklahoma.

Currently, education candidates at universities across the state take a battery of tests to become an elementary or early childhood teacher. Two of these tests are the Oklahoma Subject Area Test and the Oklahoma Reading Test.

In the last re-evaluation of the OSAT, revisions were made to include the core competencies of reading for elementary and early childhood education candidates. These changes made the ORT duplicative, as it assessed the same reading content as the revised OSAT. SB194 addresses this repetition by eliminating the duplicative coverage on the tests.

The bill is supported by the Office of Education Quality and Accountability and the State Department of Education. It unanimously passed both legislative chambers, and I’m glad the Governor agreed with the need to remove this repetitive and unnecessary barrier to help streamline the qualification process for our educators.

After the latest deadline to vote on remaining bills in the opposite chamber, the Legislature has begun the conference committee process.

This process occurs if either the House or Senate rejects bill amendments made by the other chamber. The committee from both chambers that previously passed the bill get together to collaborate on final language and changes to the bill. Once these members reach an agreement, the freshly-edited bill returns to the chamber it was filed in. If it’s approved there, it heads to the other chamber for another vote before heading to the Governor’s desk to become law.

While we wrap up conference committees, the Legislature has shifted its focus to the budget. Although discussions have been ongoing since session started, it is now the top priority for lawmakers as we’ve passed most of our legislative deadlines. The House, Senate and Governor all work together to lay out a budget that funds state agencies and their vital programs.

A major part of that discussion is education. Education funding was a major concern during the campaign season and continues to be a top issue during session. During his State of the State address at the start of session, the Governor requested a $1,200 teacher pay raise this year to push Oklahoma’s teachers to the highest paid in the region. This was also part of his 2019 Executive Budget submission. The House agreed that another pay raise was a top priority, and we passed a bill to grant this increase early in session.

Unfortunately, that bill was stalled in the Senate, where many legislators think that all new money for education this year should go into the funding formula. The House amended Senate Bill 441 to include the $1,200 pay raise, and after it passed the House, the Senate asked to enter conference committee to discuss these changes made to the bill.

However, even if the final version of Senate Bill 441 does not include a teacher pay raise, it may still be a possibility for this session. It can still be included as a line-item in the final budget bill.

The House is committed to focusing on both increasing teacher pay and classroom funding this session. After several years of difficult budget decisions, we need to put more money into our classrooms to provide the best possible opportunities for our public school students to learn and succeed. At the end of the day, I think that both another teacher pay increase and more money into our funding formula are not only possibilities, but also priorities.

Through the rest of May, the Legislature will continue to work out details of next year’s state budget for all agencies, including education-related agencies. However, education is not the only area that received significant budget cuts in the last decade. As such, legislators are working to ensure substantial funds are appropriated to other agencies as well, but education continues to sit at the top of our priorities list.

We’re approaching the end of session, but I encourage my constituents in District 82 to reach out to my office with questions or concerns about legislation. You can reach me at (405) 557-7357 or nicole.miller@okhouse.gov.

Rep. Nicole Miller, a Republican, serves District 82 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes parts of Edmond, Oklahoma City and Deer Creek.